Crofton property owners approved the civic association's proposed $570,776 budget, but not without sending a clear message: They want more say in how their tax money is spent.
Before the budget passed Monday night, about 200 residents of the special tax district voted to change the bylaws to say that any increase in the budget must be approved by them. The bylaws now say the nine-member Crofton Civic Association can set spending levels without voter approval if increases do not exceed the previous budget by more than 5 percent.
"We have lost control," said William J. Flynn, 28-year resident of Crofton, who proposed the amendment. "Vote yes to take control of your destiny. Vote no if you don't care anymore."
Opponents of the amendment argued that the bylaw change might not make the process more democratic. The budget could be determined by as few as 75 homeowners, which is the quorum for a budget vote.
"If you want an organization to work, you have to do it through your elected officials, not in this setting," Dennis R. Robin told the standing-room-only crowd in the Crofton Elementary School gymnasium.
The amendment passed 127-55, after nearly two hours of debate at the special district's general membership meeting.
The change took effect immediately, so the approval of 51 percent of the property owners was needed to put into effect the 1.2 percent increase in the civic board's proposed budget. If the property owners had not approved, the board would have had to cut the budget $6,800.
After about 90 minutes of debate, Mr. Flynn rose to decry the way the board allocated money but urged voters to support the board's budget.
"We have to submit the budget [to the County Council] next week," he said. "We've won the battles."
The budget passed 100-77. It includes the hiring of a sixth police officer part-time and cutting the comptroller postion to part-time. The maintenance budget was increased by $15,000, and funding for the $29,148-a-year counselor position ended when residents voted not to continue it.
The Crofton board's budget authority is an unusual power among special tax districts, said Caroline Kirby, a county budget analyst who coordinates Anne Arundel's 41 taxing districts.
"Crofton is one of the few that don't have a budget vote every year," she said. "Most of the existing tax districts do have budget meetings and vote."
Crofton is the county's largest taxing district, with the most properties, largest budget and most administrative structure, Ms. Kirby said.
The community has its own town manager, comptroller, administrative assistant and police force.
The change in the bylaws strikes at the heart of the civic association's powers. Its primary responsibility is to decide how to spend money collected from the district's property tax of 28 cents on each $100 of assessed value.
"We don't have a lot of leeway on next year's budget," said Edwin F. Dosek, the civic association president. "I'm going to tell you next year we're going to have problems. . . . We may have to cut back maintenance in order to maintain police. We may have to cut back police in order to maintain maintenance."